Order to chaos

June 17, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

Over the past few months I have been hard at work writing the next book in our series, The Audiophile’s Guide.

That first book, The Stereo, was an all-encompassing work covering the complete stereo system from electronics, to cables, to speakers.

This newest book, The Speaker, is a much more detailed work specific to the challenge of setting up a pair of speakers.

I can think of nothing more important in a high-end audio system than properly setting up the speakers. Even with the greatest electronics in the world, a less-than-great setup saps the life out of the music.

One of the issues I kept running into during the research and writing phase was the amount of opinion and chaos among audiophiles as to the best way to set up speakers.

(Wait! Audiophiles, opinions, and chaos?)

Fortunately, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and I have confirmed it’s not a train!

Seriously, this is one exciting project for me to work on. We’ve just finished an extraordinary group of recordings in the new Octave Studio that will accompany the book in a step-by-step fashion and I cannot wait to share it with you.

Fingers crossed for a July 2022 launch.

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25 comments on “Order to chaos”

  1. I do find this topic frustrating. Different speakers are designed to be positioned differently. Some are meant to be placed in the corner of the room, some as far from boundaries as possible, some pointing at the listening position, some behind it, some straight ahead. The manufacturers I’ve used in recent decades have been quite specific about how their speakers should be located and directed. I don’t see the point of spending a lot of money on audio equipment and then having to self-learn by trial and error how to get it to work at its best. I don’t consider it a challenge, I consider it someone else’s problem to deal with for me. In the past manufacturers have advised me how to get it right and more recently my dealer has done the set-up (twice, as I moved the speakers after he first installed them). He has done hundreds of installations of the brand, as well as being trained by the manufacturer. Only one CD was required, “Convergence” by Malia and Boris Blank.

    Watching it being done by a professional, the process all made perfect sense and took less than an hour.

      1. No trusting anyone else’s ears was necessary. He told me what he was doing as he did it and it was quite easy to hear what each adjustment (distance from rear wall, distance apart, listening position, toe-in, in that order) was intended for and achieved.

        I knew what the speakers could do as I’d heard them several times in a properly set up demo. How anyone can hope to optimise a pair of speakers that they have not heard before, so don’t know how they are capable of performing, and without experience of how to set up that particular speaker, I have no idea.

        Trinnov is nice if you have a spare $12,000.

        Room acoustics were addressed when the room was being built by speaking to the technical people at suppliers of acoustic products (a company called muffle.co.uk).

    1. It takes only several seconds to let an audio processor from Trinnov Audio optimize your system based on a most sophisticated measuring mic array! 🙂 And no more endless and frustrating shifting of subwoofers.

  2. Regardless of whether you class yourself as an audiophile or not, if you have never
    heard/witnessed a true 3-D holographic soundstage from your/a home-audio rig
    then there’s a good chance that you may think that it’s some sort of snake-oil talk.
    I suspect that that’s were the chaos may come from.
    Hearing a bona-fide 3-D holographic soundstage from a/your rig is akin to a
    religious experience.
    Those who have heard it will know exactly what I’m talking about.
    Hopefully Paul’s forthcoming book will help you to achieve this phenomenon,
    if you haven’t already done so.

    1. [Regardless of whether you class yourself as an audiophile or not, if you have never
      heard/witnessed a true 3-D holographic soundstage from your/a home-audio rig
      then there’s a good chance that you may think that it’s some sort of snake-oil talk…

      Hearing a bona-fide 3-D holographic soundstage from a/your rig is akin to a
      religious experience.Those who have heard it will know exactly what I’m talking about…]


  3. Paul. Congrats on the book. It is kind of a big deal. 🙂
    We all need guidance in this hobby of ours one way or another. Speaker placement, room decisions/dimensions and acoustic treatment are all things many upon many need help on because the variables are a huge number.

    I honestly wish I could take a tour and experience everyone’s listening room here in our PS Audio community. Now that would be something. 🙂

      1. Seeing in the photo attached the “naked” corners at the ceiling everybody will tell you that there is enormous room for improving room acoustics in Mr. Harley’s listening room!

      2. Steven, This is great stuff assuming you are going to tear back and existing room to the studs or build a new room from scratch. My guess is even for audiophiles this applies less than 5% of the time.

        1. If you don’t have the opportunity to build or design a good room for audio, maybe it’s better to choose speakers based on the ease of setting them up in the room you have.

  4. It is 5:21 AM here. I have always been a poor sleeper, but here of late it has been worse than usual. A few quick comments on this post.

    Steven, you are certainly right that different speakers require different installation. I have a fiend who built his system out of Audio Note kits. The speakers were clearly meant to go in the corners of the room. This was not possible when he lived in an apartment. However, when he moved to a house and could do so the whole system sounded right.

    FR, It is not always possibles to do 3D holographic sound. I am appalled at what some people but into impossible rooms when it comes to audio gear. These rooms are small, L shaped, U shaped, have odd nooks and crannies, have radiators in the worse possible locations, bedrooms that barely have enough room for the bed, etc.

    Paul, Where do you find the energy? Do you ever sleep?

  5. The guide and accompanied cd (preferably download) will be welcome.

    As I have learned more from my current room, reading here, taking in opinions and listening to other set ups when I can. I’ve come to a couple conclusions….
    I’m glad it wasn’t a one hour plop, twist, tilt, and then done ordeal.
    Changing the room removing/adding absorption and diffusion, placement distances, toe in toe out – reversing left right speakers,- Adjusting tilt- then isolation tweaks – change speaker wires and so on over the course of a few years. I knew when I got the speakers they were ‘finicky’ in placement, what I didn’t know was how much. So it has taken time and patience, thoughts and ideas, some trial and error. Then the dance of subwoofers placements. But between the notes taken and observations many things were learned and experience is being gained.

    I have noticed recently that the time between ‘adjustments’ has increased to the long months range and even longer. Reasonable Holographics (recording dependent) and reasonable over all sound stage and presentation are present.

    So the guide will be helpful for verification or in saying I’ve reached the max of what I’m going to get from this current set-up.

  6. Interesting Paul. I think one reason for the opinion and chaos may be because too many look for a single answer. Most all of us want the easy way out.

    But with the wide variation in room design, construction, and furnishings; the number of radiation patters of different speaker types/designs; our huge range in listening experience and taste (preferences); and the types of listening we do — active VS background, individual VS couple VS group, for the musical experience or for details of the recording, etc. — a single set of speaker placement (and listener placement) rules or guides is not possible.

  7. Lost the hearing in my right ear a year ago. No more worries about all that soundstage stuff! However, clarity still matters alot. I may have to pick up a single FR 30 at some point. Maybe a scratch and dent warehouse oops.

  8. My weak point is finding what Paul calls midbass coupling…it may be my impatience…ill go thru the first book and CD again and ask a friend to help. As you all know i pull out my speakers every day to a mark on the floor, and still experiment.

  9. I have set of speakers that are supposed to up against the wall or pulled out no more than 6″ and no tow in. I have another set that sound better the farther you pull them away from the wall. Both sets are some of the best imaging speakers I have ever heard.

    1. This is true with most speakers, they need to be placed properly to get the best performance. Most manufactures supply instructions for installing the speakers either with speaker themselves ( i.e. an Owners Manual ) or in some cases on the manufactures website. I guess that if the room the speakers are going in is not unusually difficult, following the supplied instructions will get you about 80% of the performance the speakers are capable of given your system. Tweaking may get you more performance, however IMO, there is a limit to what tweaking can do.

      My own situation is an example of this. The speakers I bought are very forgiving of room placement ( they are the kind that keeping them away from the walls is best ). Even so the dealer delivered and installed them. With some minor tweaking I improved the imaging, ‘however, they were not giving me what they did in the dealer’s showroom ( I bought the actual speakers that were in the dealer’s showroom ). The problem had nothing to do with the speakers, their placement or my room. The amps I had did not have enough power to drive the speakers to their fullest potential. Once I got a more powerful amplifier I got the sound that I always wanted.

      This does not mean that I am not going to get Paul’s next book and read it to see if there is even more that I can do to get even better sound.

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